I now understand why small-town voters vote republican

Tuesday 29 June 2004 at 10:12

My recent political introspection started as far back as the 2002 elections. I asked some friends of the family who are in politics why rural Colorado is so consistently aligned with Republican leaders in spite of policies which favor big corporations and the super-rich -- most of rural Colorado would not benefit personally from those policies. Behind that question was a hope of understanding why and where my values differ from those of my conservative relatives.

On Friday, June 10th Terry Gross interviewed Thomas Frank who has written a book entitled: What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. Frank asks the same question in his own way. "Why has the conservative movement won over so many working Americans when the movement's policies are just making the rich even richer?" In a separate interview from the same program, Terry also put the question to self-described conservative P.J. O'Rourke. Between the two of them I've finally got satisfying answers to my question.

According to Frank, Republican intelligentsia have redefined social class by creating what Frank calls "the authenticity divide." The class stereotypes have been shifted from an economic divide between the rich and poor, to a social divide between the authentic salt-of-the-earth types and the liberal elite. Paraphrased:

On the one hand are the average, salt-of-the-earth, blue collar Americans, who live in the heartland, the grassroots people, middle America -- people who have authenticity, who aren't ashamed of who they are, who work with their hands, they're humble, god-fearing, patriotic, and hard-working.

The others are effete, uprooted, driven from fad to fad, they tend to have very pretentious college degrees and funny little affected pets, they drink lattes and French wine.

Frank claims the Republican leaders have positioned themselves as the defenders of these authentic, small town folk against the snooty city slickers. He exaggerates the stereotypes in order to cast the Republican intelligentsia as manipulators. Nevertheless, he's on to something.

My question assumed economic class lines. Republican policies favor big corporations and the super-rich. Rural Coloradans by and large are neither, yet support the Republican Party. That is only a paradox because I assumed it was economic divisions that mattered. Separating the classes along non-economic lines weakens the paradox implicit in both Frank's and my questions.

O'Rourke, who describes himself as very conservative, had different answers. Again paraphrased:

While it may be morally right for us to support the poor and the elderly, it is inappropriate for the Government to force us to do so by levying taxes with an implied threat of force if you fail to pay those taxes. Average people assume government will abuse its power. They believe that Democrats will increase government more than Republicans will -- there's more power to abuse if Democrats have their way.

Now I think I understand. Frank has revealed incorrect assumptions in my question. Then O'Rourke basically answered the question I should have been asking. My conservative relatives and I are equally concerned about government power and corruption. I just happen to be especially appalled by the the Bush administration's abuse of power.